War on terror fails to stop surge in global attacks

Terrorism is on the rise, with an almost fivefold increase in fatalities since the dramatic 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001.

This is in spite of US-led efforts to combat terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, according to a report published this week.

The Global Terrorism Index recorded almost 18?000 deaths from terrorism last year, a jump of about 60% over the previous year. Four groups were responsible for most of them: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda in various parts of the world.

The report comes after Isis released a video showing the beheading of American hostage Peter Kassig, an aid worker in Syria, the fifth such video of the killing of Western hostages since mid-August.

The terrorism index raises questions about the effectiveness of a Western counterterrorism strategy since 9/11 that has seen US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and the use of proxy forces around the world.

The “war on terror” launched by the George W Bush administration after the 2001 attacks in the US has failed to eliminate or reduce terrorism in spite of Washington having spent $4.4-trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and operations elsewhere.

According to the index figures, the number of fatalities has steadily grown over the past 14 years – from 3 361 in 2000 to 17?958 in 2013.

Supporters of the US strategy can find solace in a decrease in the four years from 2007, which could be attributed to the US troop surge in Iraq. The next steep rise began in 2011 as a result of the Syrian civil war, which was born out of the Arab Spring rather than US-led action. But the emergence of Isis can be attributed directly to the US invasion of Iraq – it grew from al-Qaeda’s insurgency against US forces in that country.

Worrying increase
Steve Killelea, executive director of the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent think-tank with offices in Sydney, New York and Oxford, said there had been a “significant and worrying increase in worldwide terrorism” over the past two years.

He did not have the figures for this year yet, but “my gut instinct is that it will be worse. I think we will see an increase.”

The Isis beheadings account for only a tiny proportion of terrorist incidents but have a huge emotional impact. “What beheading a Westerner does is evoke a strong reaction,” Killelea said. “If you have 20 people killed in an attack in Iraq, it has an effect. But if 20 people are killed in downtown London, it has a much stronger effect.”

The US and the United Kingdom have been boasting in recent years that al-Qaeda is on the run, its leadership decimated. But as al-Qaeda’s influence has declined, other groups such as Isis have replaced it.

According to the index, the number of Taliban fighters is estimated at between 36 000 and 60 000, with Isis having 20 000, al-Qaeda 3 700 to 19 000, and Boko Haram 500 to 9 000.

More widespread
Eighty percent of lives lost to terrorism in 2013 were in only five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Since 2000, about 5% of all the 107 000 terrorist deaths have occurred in developed countries, members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which includes most of Europe and the US.

As well as a rise in fatalities, terrorism has also become more widespread. The number of countries experiencing more than 50 deaths rose to 24 in 2013; the previous high had been 19 in 2008.

Killelea said among the causes of terrorism are group grievance, political instability, state-sponsored terrorism such as torture and extrajudicial killings and, over the past 14 years, the rise of Sunni extremist theology.

He called on Sunni Muslim nations to champion moderate forms of Sunni theologies to counteract the radicals.

Isis “needs a military response but a military response on its own is not enough. Sunnis in Iraq have a lot of legitimate grievances,” Killelea said.

The report says that the two most successful strategies for ending terrorist groups since the late 1960s have been policing and the initiation of a political process.

“These strategies were the main reason for the ending of more than 80% of terrorist organisations that ceased operation. Only 10% of terrorist groups could be said to have achieved their goals and only 7% were eliminated by full military engagement.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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Ewen Macaskill
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